The Modern Period
Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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From cloth “diapers” boiled on the stove and reused, to Kotex and Tampax. From shock at the sight of the first bleeding and an awkward explanation by an embarrassed mother to educational films and pamphlets in fifth-grade classrooms. From warnings to avoid swimming, over-exertion, and “mental shock” to reassurances that having one’s period did not preclude any normal work...
1 Before “Modern” Menstrual Management: Keeping Secrets, Wearing Diapers, Avoiding Chills
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At the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States, “modern” approaches to menstrual management were just beginning to take shape, and most women still thought about and managed menstruation in ways that would have been familiar to many generations of their ancestors. They learned about menstruation only haphazardly and thought of it as shameful...
2 The Modern Way to Talk about Menstruation: Education, The Scientific Narrative, and Public Discussion
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A 1934 book called Your Sex Questions Answered: What Every Modern Mother and Father Should Know told parents that before a girl’s first period, “she should understand that menstruation is not getting rid of impurities, but that the blood and other material which would nourish a potential child has to be discarded when not used for procreation; that Nature has established menstruation...
3 The Modern Way to Behave while Menstruating: Changing Health Beliefs and Practices
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Between the late nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century, medical and popular beliefs about the relationship between menstruation and general health shifted dramatically. By the 1990s, women and physicians in United States were remarkably unconcerned about menstruation as an indicator of general health or illness. Even more definitively, they...
4 The Modern Way to Manage Menstruation: Technology and Bodily Practices
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New technology introduced on the emerging mass market in the 1920s and 1930s, and advertised aggressively in nationally available media, transformed women’s and men’s experiences of menstruation. Advertisers presented a vision of a “modern” body that was well managed, did not leak or smell, did not cause anxiety or self-consciousness, and did not display other evidence of...
5 Tampons: A Case Study in Controversy
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Although women did not hesitate to use disposable sanitary napkins, many were not so confident that tampons were a good idea. Physicians were equally concerned during the ten years after tampons were introduced in 1936, and they studied and debated tampons’ effects on health. Women and physicians alike were concerned about tampons’ safety, efficacy, and sexual implications. Among...
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Over the course of the twentieth century, Americans radically revised their ideas and practices surrounding menstruation, to bring them in accord with a desire to become “modern” and attain middle-class standing. American women adopted Progressive ideals of efficiency, education, and good management, and applied them to menstrual management. Both women and men idealized a body that could work and play at full...
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Over the past ten years, while researching and writing this book, I have accumulated many intellectual and personal debts. First, I want to acknowledge the seventy- five interviewees who gave so generously of their time and their memories. I wish I could thank them by name. Without them, this book would not have been possible, and indeed, their stories are what gives this...
Appendix: Interview Method
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Essay on Sources
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Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 7 halftones
Publication Year: 2009